A small investment pays quick dividends as elementary schoolers’ grades jump to the top of the class.

A lot of parenting involves trying to talk kids into doing things that are absolutely essential, but they might not feel the benefits of until years in the future. “Eat your vegetables!” is a baffling diet plan for someone who’s blessed with the boundless energy and untarnished health that comes with extreme youth, and “Study hard!” seems like a waste of time when you’re still too little to be given real responsibility to make your own choices with the knowledge you’ve acquired.

Still, it’s a parent’s job to instill good habits and values at a young age, and in the case of Japanese parent Tokurontinus (@jyouhou_syusyu on Twitter), who’s also an author, one of those is an appreciation for language, especially the written word. So rather than rely on the school system to shove books down the throats of Tokurontinus’s twins, who’re in the fourth year of elementary school, the clever parent instead came up with a plan to make them love books and motivate them to go far beyond their required reading assignments.

“I made a deal with my kids. They check a book out from the library, read it, and explain the story to me, and if their explanation is interesting, I give them an extra 100 yen [US$0.93] of allowance. Since then, they’ve been reading like crazy, and they now have the top grades in their class for Japanese.”

The key part here is the “if their explanation is interesting” part. If Tokurontinus was simply handing out 100 yen coins for every book read, the motivation would be for the kids to just skim through each book as quickly, and shallowly, as possible. But by linking the reward to an interesting summary, Tokurontinus is steering the twins towards a deep, thoughtful analysis of the book’s contents. What is the author trying to say? What characters or situations left the deepest impression? And how can you convey your own opinions to someone else in a way that’s understandable and engaging?

Rather than just passive input, Tokurontinus’ system results in creative output too. Look back at the terms again, and you’ll see the reward isn’t given for the book itself being interesting, but for the kids’ analysis and discussion of it. Didn’t like the book? No problem, but you’re going to have to explain why beyond just saying “It was dumb.” It’s not just the kids’ spoken communication that’s improved, either, as Tokurontinus reports their writing and composition skills have also shot up.

While there’s an obvious academic and economic benefit for the kids, Tokurontinus gets something out of the arrangement too (aside from pride in the twins’ class-topping grades). “Because of this system, my kids and I spend a lot more time talking to each other,” Tokurontinus adds, and the whole plan has impressed others enough to leave online comments like:

“Definitely going to do this when my kid gets old enough to read.”

“I’m sure they’re happy for the extra allowance, but I think what really keeps them going is having a parent that will listen to them when they have something to say.”

“This is a great idea. My son is also in the fourth grade, and I’ve let him read tons of manga since he was in pre-school, and he gets great grades [on his Japanese tests].”

“As time goes by, they’ll probably start learning how to look for interesting books on their own.”

“Before long, they’ll probably start wanting to find and read new books even without the 100-yen reward.”

It’s probably too early to tell if things will play out like the last commenter hopes, but for the time being, Tokurontinus’s twins have become passionate bookworms. Oh, and if you’re looking for some new reading material yourself, Tokurontinus’ novels can be found here, and while they’re currently all in Japanese, that just means even more new vocabulary to learn.

Source: Twitter/@jyouhou_syusyu via Hachima Kiko
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert image: Pakutaso
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Reading Casey’ tweets will not earn you 100 yen, but you can follow him on Twitter anyway.